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Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer on the SA Premiere of ‘Necktie Youth’

Ambitious Sibs Shongwe-La Mer made an impressive directorial breakthrough, winning Best Director and Best Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF). The last time we spoke with Sibs was for our Young South Africa 2014 series and his film ‘Territorial Pissings‘. Undoubtedly, his recent accolades point towards a formidable and promising voice in South African cinema, whose stark cinematic style embodies the grit and angst indicative of the millennial experience portrayed in ‘Necktie Youth’. The film was positively received at various international festivals and had its much-anticipated SA premiere this weekend.

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

You’re a 23 year old filmmaker, who won two awards at DIFF this year. Right now, ‘Necktie Youth’ is being screened at Ster-Kinekor cinemas as well as being released on iTunes and DSTV boxoffice. Can you tell us what the journey has been like so far?

It’s been a really crazy ride to say the least. I’ve been working on this film in one form or another for decade now and in many ways this reflects a huge portion of my work to date. It’s really crazy seeing it not only come together, but watching its reception around the world. The picture has been received surprisingly warmly. So, there’s a huge sense of achievement in that respect. I never thought this film would achieve what it has.

The film premiered at Berlinale, TriBeCa, Sydney and other international festivals before DIFF. What were the reasons for showcasing it on foreign shores before releasing it here?

Well, it was more following a film’s traditional life cycle than any form of ingenuity. Art films generally do a festival run before theatrical releases, as it’s generally through festivals and critical response that films get picked up by distributors. In the case of ‘Youth’ the festival tour was fundamental to spotlighting the film and making people aware it existed. When the film got good reviews in big international publications, I guess people started getting really interested in watching it and selling it.

How have foreign audiences reacted and what do you anticipate the South African response will be like?

International audiences have responded real well to the piece. Definitely a lot better than I ever imagined a film of mine to do at the time. I think there’s an increasing interest in the “New Africa” among both American and European audiences. It has been incredible to see various cultures and continents not only discover a side to Africa they might have not known of, but also to speak to people all over the world about the societal commonalities that exist between all nations. In New York, I got to speak to one of the cast mates of ‘Kids’ who commented how ‘Youth’ rang true to their experience growing up. So that sense of generational communion is rad. As for South African audiences… pfft. Well, I think it’s gonna piss a lot of people off, make a heap feel understood or seen, and ultimately start a conversation. I don’t expect too much apathy from SA. I think people will hate it or love it. Which is cool…

This is your first feature film. Practically speaking, what were some of the triumphs and challenges in creating it?

Yeah… it was an intense process. First features are really scary things. It’s hard to get companies and boards to invest in your first feature – even more so when you’re a high school drop out, 22 years old and asking for some millions. So, getting the little cash we could in the bank was a triumph for me and my producers. Getting the cast I really believed would bring the manuscript to life was another victory. Working on the visual language and motifs with my cinematographer Chuanne Blofield was another. Yeah… think it’s safe to say that every step – from the script to the cutting room – was a win, as it all brought us to the completion of the project.

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

You wrote, directed and starred in ‘Necktie Youth’. How and why did you juggle three roles which more often than not, are delegated to different people?

Well I’ve always been interested in various art forms and enjoyed exploring and communicating through various mediums. I’ve always loved writing, so writing a screenplay seemed logical to the preservation of my vision, as did directing it. Acting was a bit of a test. I hadn’t acted since grade school plays so that was a new space to venture into but it seemed natural to the telling. I don’t know if I really have a “why” other than I really enjoy being involved in every step of my art and giving as much of myself to my works as possible.

Some critics have said the film lacks narrative and your response was that audiences are too familiar with a linear structure. Why do you think this is, and do you feel it’s something that needs to change?

I think the art form of filmmaking has been suffocated by the entertainment industry. Directors have been fooled into a militant adherence to the 3 act form and have stopped seeing the work as an art piece. I wanted to make a film that felt empty and gave the feeling of nothing happening. This was important to my intention. So I made an almost “anti-narrative” film. In many ways the central narrative is that there is no narrative. I think filmmakers just have to think about the best way to tell their story and not be confined to limitations besides their own imaginations.

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

Who or what have been most influential to your own work, and why?

My friends, art, various films, books. I’m very interested in society and human behaviour so I’m constantly investigating people and cultures I come into contact with – with a desire to understand various mentalities and actions. Most of all, I reckon I’m just fascinated with why people do what they do, hate what they hate and love what they love.

As a young filmmaker, what do you love and loathe about the South African film industry?

I love the spirit. I loathe the narrow mindedness.

What are you currently busy with that we can keep an eye out for?

I’ve got a few cats in the bag including a sophomore feature film set in Brazil. I’m also looking at some stuff in the U.S. and another couple of feature possibilities set back home. But, that’s all I’m gonna say for now.

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Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

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